Zanli De Jager, Art Director at Amok, design enthusiast and fighter for the arts, explores what it takes to grow in your work.

Time to Suit Up and Step Up

I thought I would share some thoughts about the series Suits. I’ve never been a binge watcher of any sort, but I absolutely love the world of Suits, the outwitting nature of the conversations, their cunning strategies and their sleek office lifestyle. Maybe after this article, I can convince myself to end the binge (only three episodes left to go).

What does the series Suits have to do with the creative industry? Nothing, since anyone with a degree (or not), can be a designer these days. Having an expensive bottle of Scotch in your office, like they do in the series, is a far-fetched dream, but the one shared characteristic that both the Suits world and the creative industry share, is that there’s no defining right or wrong that dictates how to do your job — in my case, design (except the unspoken rule to never, ever use Comic Sans. Not as a designer or as a fancy lawyer).

The creative industry is skewed upon “I like” or “I dislike”. Did you notice the “I”? Subjectivity is the name of the game, and you need to learn to constantly read between the lines and bring ideas to the table that are always “out of the box”.

There are glimpses of tangible “design laws” seen in the industry, for example, the “logo constitution” aka CI manuals or any other manuals that try to establish order. But with any of the industry’s creative processes, I can guarantee you that somewhere a tiny little “design law” will be broken for the sake of keeping everyone happy (and I’m being diplomatic here). The design industry is quite lawless, and the question is: Is it possible to bring some form of order into a world where the decision-makers are also the chaos-makers?

Design has its basic principles, and even though it’s not a law enforced by the design police (or maybe it is?), these principles are still very necessary to create good design. The most basic principles are picked up during your studies, and then through industry experience, but, are these principals enough to bring “order”?

I’ve discovered that these principles are shaped by each individual’s values. Those designers that work boldly with their views and values, stand-out and take the lead. It’s a process to discover your design style through practised principals that are incorporated into your designs on a daily basis. It’s a journey, but do we need to make this journey on our own?

Maybe we underestimate the power of collaboration and the accountability that goes along with it. I’m suggesting that leaders need to be bold; to break laws in order to make new ones. We need to share the stories of those brave enough to stand up and stand out, and test their ideas within the design community. I’ve read that good design is built upon earlier ideas — yes, we don’t have clear laws, but we’re part of the law where freedom is the foundation. Freedom is essential to create beauty in this world that is so clearly lacking both.

I confess, I love the freedom I’m given when I design — it’s like being let loose in the creative wild west. It’s challenging to live and run free by your own set of values and still create with integrity. Not only that, but this freedom also asks that you design with responsibility and accountability, a challenge that is sometimes tiresome and difficult to uphold, especially when deadlines and managers are breathing down your neck.

Secretly, we all desire a Jessica Pearson or Harvey Specter on our side, backing us up with confident statements backed by “the law” on why certain designs and ideas won’t make the cut.

Well, maybe it’s time for you to put on your own suit and raise your voice the way Jessica would.